NHL and ESPN Are Together Again

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, NHL fans may be getting what they want with ESPN signing a new deal with the NHL to become on of their media partners starting next season. ESPN will get rights to four Stanley Cup Finals between 2022 and 2028 and streaming rights to the league. The NHL and NBC deal ends at the end of this season and plenty of people were clamoring for the NHL to go elsewhere. It may look like they’ve partial gotten their wish.

The NHL hasn’t been a regular entity on ESPN’s family of networks since 2004, they have had games on ESPN+ over the past couple of seasons, as well as beefing up their coverage of hockey thanks to the work of Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, as well as Chris Peters– who was let go from ESPN during the pandemic. With NBC Sports Network going dark in lieu of PeacockTV, it only makes sense that ESPN would pick up the lead in this for the TV side.

While this does seem like a step in the right direction, the issue remains whether or not it’ll tip the scales all that much and if we’ll actually get a change in the teams being broadcasted. The biggest issue when the NHL spurred ESPN for the old Outdoor Life Network was because ESPN didn’t see the NHL as a money making entity and low-balled them on a new deal. Has that sentiment changed at all?? Maybe. Honestly, though, I don’t see the NHL getting as much screen time on a network that is jammed up with other, more profitable for the network sports.

It would be great to have the ESPN talking heads be all about the NHL and yell and bitch on their overpaid showcases of hot takes that mimic a talk show– but I don’t see that happening. If nothing else, the NHL gets more exposure due to the notoriety that ESPN has over other sports networks. That said, I don’t see it really tipping the needle in terms of exposure to the sports for people since the NHL will move to fourth on the depth chart of sports over the defacto top spot they had on NBCSN. Granted, it was the NHL or Meecum Auctions, so the competition of the networks wasn’t that stiff.

Yet, when you think about it– the numbers could be slightly better just due to reach, but outside of that– who knows what that could bring. You have to think that an NHL Tonight type show will be around; but outside of that– what’s it going to take for people to notice the NHL on ESPN?? More importantly– how long before NHL fans bitch about not receive the coverage they think they should get on the World Wide Leader??

In the grand scheme, this is an upward move– how can it not be?? ESPN is everywhere and they have a multitude of platforms on the TV side that people can get to on cable and whatnot. Streaming rights are what they are, which makes me wonder if things don’t go swimmingly or other leagues start to demand more, if that was a safety net installed to put the NHL on ESPN+ when all is said and done and only use ESPN or ESPN2 for the bigger events. This also doesn’t account for who the other partner would be for the other half of the NHL rights and how those two will co-exist.

But for not, strike up the National Hockey Night theme and relive the good-old days of hockey on ESPN.

NHL Outdoors Was Great, Don’t Expect It Again for a Bit

The Lake Tahoe games happened. Aside from the sun being the mortal enemy of ice on Saturday– you’d have to say it was ultimately a success. The sights, the sounds, the kayaks– all of it was solid for the viewing public. That was ultimately ruined by Rutledge Wood, but we take what we can get with NBC’s budget on hockey for sideline reporters. It was super enjoyable, especially in a year we didn’t think an outdoor game would happen.

Odds are we won’t be seeing that for a good while.

With this “NHL Outdoors” branding, there are four different outdoor games that can occur now: Outdoors, Heritage Classic, Winter Classic, and Stadium Series. The only one that you can’t utilize in a league that needs all the money it can muster is the Outdoors concept. The rest of those are in over-capacity venues that will provide solid revenue for the league, while this Outdoors concept seems to be the one that is where there’s little to no fans. That way, the ad wizards at the TV license holder can pat themselves on the back when they keep using the ideal of “taking the game back to its origin” and remind us of all the players starting out on the pond playing hockey.

There’s a good chance that next season, we’ll have PLENTY of outdoors games– assuming people will be let into buildings to watch sporting events. When the NHL had the shortened 2012-13 season, they made up for the lost half-season by holding six outdoor games the next year and made some good cash off of that to put into the Hockey Related Revenue. For some reason, I could imagine that number at least doubling because of all the lost revenue from the pandemic not allowing capacity crowds into the buildings. They need to start to break even some how.

Which is why the Outdoors idea will only come into play when the league has the money it need and has a setting and teams that are remote enough that little to no fans will be in. We’ve joked on the Face Off Hockey Show about the idea of the league putting the game on an aircraft carrier like the NCAA did with the Carrier Classic or the WWE did with trying to slam Yokozuna. I mean, if they can make ice anywhere, the aircraft carrier is far too perfect, while also serving their want/need to hold games at military venues as they did at the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy.

Everything was perfect for this event to take play and give a way to have an outdoor game in a pandemic. But it’s only because they couldn’t have fans anyway and the golf courses weren’t actively being used in February. Just don’t be surprised when it doesn’t happen for another five years or so and everything is stabilized. Then you can have stories of how people tried to break into the closed event.

Divisional Sponsors Are My New Favorite Thing in the NHL

The NHL is getting that bread, gamers, as they announced divisional sponsors for the upcoming shortened season. Scotiabank (North), Mass Mutual (East), Discover (Central), and Honda (West) will be the presenting sponsors of the divisions in a move to not only recoup losses from lack of box office, but maybe add another way to get hockey related revenue into the game.

Rumors have this as being a one-and-done thing given the oddity of the upcoming season…but why?? Why turn a potential money-maker into a one-year events when you have to think there’s sure to be hiccups going into the 2021-22 season, as well, when it comes to attendance.

As someone who covers NASCAR, I love the idea of sponsorships being a thing. Do they run sports?? Sure, just look at how arena naming conventions are and then try to debate me on this and helmet decals ruining the purity of the game. It’s also some more money coming into the league. Like I said with the helmet decals— until capitalism dies, this is the way to go. And what a smart way for the NHL to go about it by pretty much selling everything they can and say it’s only for a year. If it gets people talking, if it creates more marketing opportunities, if it’s generating dollars…why kill it after one year.

The NFL doesn’t do this, nor the NBA and MLB. But you have to wonder if the NHL is going to blaze the trail for getting money out there in a new way.

Sure, these sponsors are already in the NHL’s pockets with other deals and this was probably a small raise to their rate already, but it’s a start. If this could garner interest in new sponsors coming in to the game, why not?? Plus, the intrigue of whether or not a company will renew their divisional rights and who could swoop into getting them. In NASCAR, this happens all the time, it’s a hoot to see where companies are going and what companies come into the fold. Not only that, but think of the trickle down in the minor leagues. The AHL and ECHL probably would want some of that money into their leagues.

I’m all for this being a thing always and forever. If this league relies on money to stay alive, why not search out every avenue in which to make it?? If it flames out after a year, fine– you made the money you needed. If it keeps going, however, I think it’s the best for business because once that money goes into HHR; every then will benefit in some way, shape, or form.

Helmet Ads Are Here and They’re Fine

Photo via Washington Capitals

Stop bitching about company logos on helmets. Stop bitching about the idea of company logos on jerseys. This is the 21st Century and it’s an inevitability it was going to happen in hockey– so just sit back, grit your teeth, and let it take you in. The NHL is going from ads on practice jerseys to helmets and it’s just another evolution of the sports business. You’re not a traditionalist, calm yourself.

The Washington Capitals announced they’ll be one of the first teams to have sponsors on their helmet, with Capital One on their helmets. The New Jersey Devils also announced they will have Prudential on their helmets. Both of those sponsors are the sponsors of the team’s arenas.

The minor leagues have done this for decades and it’s what has kept them alive. Many minor league hockey fans may not even notice them today because they’ve been such a part of the uniform. Some junior league teams have ads on jerseys to help off-set costs and get their name out there more in the community. It’s how brands do things and it’s just a small part of how sports are done masquerading as a game and being more open about being an actual business– if you hadn’t figured it out before.

Nathan Fournier of the Lewiston Sun-Journal made mention of NASCAR drivers and if those fans were pissed off when company logos were displayed on cars and fire-suits for the first time. I counter with the fact they probably weren’t mad; but felt closer to the driver and team because they bought the certain sponsor or ate at the restaurant on the fire-suit.

Yes, the European sports leagues have logos every which way but loose, though that’s more of a situation where sports aren’t the big moneymaker there and the teams need everyone dollar to pay the players and survive from year to year. North America doesn’t necessarily have that problem, so they can make small patches doable. Of course, you’ll have people out there trying to make a mountain out a mole hill claiming traditionalism and the sanctity of the sports– but it’s a business. It needs to make money to survive. Until capitalism dies, this is how it’s gonna be. I will say, I don’t think the NHL is as stupid than to make their member teams have their crest be dwarfed by a sponsor on the jersey. They’re silly geese in the NHL offices, but not that silly.

The NBA has made plenty of money with it and the MLB have tried to dip their toes into the waters, why shouldn’t the NHL; especially considering the times we’re living in and the unknown of when they can have full arenas of people– not only by lifting of restrictions, but people’s willingness to spend money they may not have budgeted for and go out in public during a pandemic.

Your team is going to have the same color and pattern to their jerseys, they’re going to still have the same players out there, there’s just addition Hockey Related Revenue on their person to make the game more profitable, which raises the salary cap, which allows more players to get paid, which allows less transactions due to a stagnant salary cap.

To quote Gandhi (or was it Ric Flair), “Whether you like or don’t like it, learn to love it, because it’s the best thing going today. WOOOOOOOOOO!!”

Pretty sure that was Gandhi.

NHL, PA Agree To Season Start Time

Alright, here we go, the NHL is coming back with a vengeance on January 13th and it’s going to be…something.

When the 56-game season was announced Sunday, the people rejoiced, and why wouldn’t they?? The idea that a season would happen this early (if at all) was a welcome surprise. For me, the biggest eyebrow cocking moment was the length of season, with eight more games added than past shortened seasons have been. I understand that the NHL wants to get the most games out of the season, but for some reason, the idea of 56-games is a little odd to me given past history.

The revamped divisions will have all the Canadian teams in one, then as much regional content as possible.

Chaos happens in the Central with a nice mix of Midwest and Southeast content, which will really make travel fantastic for them. Along with the Canadian teams, these squads will be either battle-hardened by the playoffs or completely exhausted.

All the games will be within the revamped divisions for this season divisions with the playoffs almost being the same format until the final four teams are there. There’s not going to be any conferences this year and the final four teams out of their divisions will be reseeded on regular season points– which could create an all traditional Eastern or Western Conference Stanley Cup Final. The idea of that could be one of the better ones to come out of this whole season. If the NHL really wanted to shake things up…do that every year. To hell with the idea of Eastern vs. Western, just make the final four reshuffle and go from there. If it goes to a traditional match-up, sobeit– but the idea of a non-traditional Final is pretty solid to me.

In some locations, there will be fans. Dallas has hinted at going for the amount of 5,000 fans in attendance, which other teams haven’t been as clear on their plans. More over, the California teams can’t play in their home arenas due to restrictions in the state, while the British Columbia health ministry will stay strict when outside teams to come into the province to play. The NHL has said neutral location games might have to happen, while the idea of a baseball style series– three games in three days in the same location– could be a very prevalent look for the NHL this season.

No one knows what will come of this season, there are some on the fence on whether it should happen at all with the vaccines just rolling out into the world. That said, it gives people some joy in an otherwise dreary Christmas season.

Why I Don’t Like the Capitals Reverse Retro Jersey

There is not much Adidas could do with the Capitals Reverse Retro (TM) jerseys than what they did. The inaugural era has been done and it was onto the bronze era for the Caps. But if you would have told me it was going to be the #1 seller for the week it came out, I probably would have rolled my eyes and then not think highly of your opinion for a while. That still goes, mind you, but it’s still a shock.

Note– jerseys are quite subjective and everyone has their own style and what-not, but this is my opinion of this bullshit cash-grab jersey Adidas has put out.

For me, the jersey is not very aesthetically pleasing, mainly because I think the Capital dome logo and jersey would have been a better choice for the RR collab. However, more than aesthetics, it’s about what that era represented to me as a fan and the memories– or heartache– it brought in those jerseys.

Before I get started– we all know this is a throwback to the white jerseys from 1995-97, right?? The ones where there’s two colors on the home jersey and it still said “Capitals” up the side which they got rid of before the Stanley Cup run?? Okay, just making sure. Many places have it equated to the blue away jersey, but that was all one color whereas the homes had that clash.

The move to the screaming eagle was one that was very unexpected and one that I still think was a mistake to this day. Not once when I think of Washington, DC do I think about blue, bronze, and black. More over, it was the start of the Capitals move to DC; which personally ended my in-arena attendance of games– which is part of my loathsome attitude towards it.

On the ice, that jersey conjures up very bad memories. The Petr Nedved goal in the fourth OT in 1996 to knot up the series they will eventually win. To lesser extents because it wasn’t the white jersey at the time– the whole Stanley Cup run ending in a sweep and the Jaromir Jagr drama which led to the Caps need to rebuild. Sure, Ovechkin wore the updated white jersey and the black dome jersey– but they switched soon after. Not only that, but the dome logo would have been a great link of the time where the Caps turned the team around with Ovechkin and Backstrom coming onto the scene. I mean, that was 16 years ago that Ovechkin got drafted to the team– I think that’s enough time to have a retro linking his drafting to the new era.

Again– your results may vary, but this is kind of an explanation/reference point to anyone who asks what I think of the jersey and if I’ll buy one or not. Though, the latter can be answered by the simple fact I don’t wear jerseys much anymore and wouldn’t want to shell out the cash for it to just hang in my closet when I dislike it as much as I do.

On the Topic Of Outdoor Hockey Games in a Pandemic

Not since the Williamsport Outlaws of the Federal Hockey League have some many teams clamored to play an entire hockey season outdoors. But a pandemic will do crazy things to you if you’re not careful, which is why the extreme measures seem to be looked at as an option. Elliotte Friedman made mention of this in an article stating that four teams have investigated playing outdoors and three others are at least interested.

For context, the Williamsport Outlaws attempted to play their entire home schedule of the 2012-13 season at Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania while they were awaiting completion of their own rink. Oddly enough, the plan didn’t work out for the low-minor league team and they ceased operations in January of 2013 before the FHL took over and made the team a traveling team for the rest of the year. The team collected about $240,000 in debt despite average over 1,000 per game and having a decent record to get people in the stands. Bus League Hockey has a great breakdown of the Outlaws’ plight.

Granted, these are NHL teams were talking about now and it’s not like their owners don’t have the money to scrape up coin and the connections to get deals on the fields, equipment, and so-on to have outdoor games and have the ability to get some people into the stands to watch their team play. It’s a novel idea to start getting some kind of revenue into the team…even if it won’t made a dent when it comes to operation costs in the long-run. Friedman mentions as much in the article.

But when you get to it, this goes to show that teams want to play and they want to have fans around and they don’t want to go into a bubble again because no revenues for another undetermined amount of time. Sure, part of that is because they’re losing money with every day that passes, but at the same time– I’m sure they want to see some kind of normal life come back into the fold as much as anyone, corporate greed notwithstanding. If anything, the idea of maybe going to a smaller venue that’s fitted for hockey would be better, especially if jurisdictions don’t allow for people into the arenas. The cost would be less, you wouldn’t have to shell for the equipment, and so on. Sure, the broadcasts would be interesting given those small rinks may not be made out for TV; but I think that’s a first-world problem scenario to have when it comes to getting hockey back onto the ice.

Selfishly, however, I would love to see what crazy millionaire owner would play an entire season outdoors, money be damned, just to have paying customers in the stands.

Reverse Retro or BS Cash Grab 2020

When in need of revenue– make a new jersey.

That seems to be the tactic the NHL and Adidas are going when it comes to the new “Reverse Retro” jerseys that will be coming out for all 31 teams this upcoming season. Each team will have an imaginative retro jersey that will be a retro design, but the colors reversed. It’s not just a clever name.

While we’ve had some purported leaks when it comes to the idea of what could come from these (Pens, Flyers, Knights, Ducks, Bruins, Blue Jackets, and Caps), Adidas rolled out a teaser for every team. Chris Creamer of SportsLogos.net made a video about each team’s possible reverse retro garb.

There will be some hits, but there will be plenty of misses. I’m sure when it comes down to it, the idea of these will be in the eye of the beholder. Granted, this is great for the Hockey Relater Revenue that the NHL will need with the lack of fans in the stands, I don’t know if I like the road they are going down in terms of saturating the market with jerseys. It’s almost akin to the NBA and their “City” jerseys that Nike puts out every year for those teams.

I will concede that this is a new way to look at a retro jersey and that the actual retro jersey fad has been lacking any kind of excitement, I don’t know if this idea is any better or worse than the Stadium Series jerseys which basically are a “Turn Ahead The Clock” gimmick for teams playing in it. There’s only so many jerseys to look to and NHL has a lot of people claiming to be traditionalists that hate the idea of going too far outside of the box with retros.

Granted, I could be put into that latter box; but I feel myself more of the idea that these are going to look hideous and it’s just a Bullshit Cash Grab by the NHL and Adidas because they know people will clamor to these to be apart of the next wave of things.

Maybe it’ll be like the alternate jersey program in the mid-90s when it was just no-holds-barred and what was silly then will hold some kind of prestige after the fact. Hell, they may even be really, really good. But I won’t hold my breathe on either as of yet.

Reirden Out, But Who’s In??

After failing to make the second round in as many playoffs due to the inability to adjust to their opponents, the Washington Capitals shipped off Todd Reirden to Parts Unknown, leaving the head coaching spot of the 2018 Stanley Cup champions vacant. The next coach will be the 19th coach in team history and fifth within a decade, which shows the standard the Caps are putting out there.

It’s not that Reirden was a bad choice, but probably ill-advised. He drew rave reviews getting hired from Pittsburgh to join Barry Trotz’s staff, but once he took over due to the Caps not wanting to pay Trotz’s asking price; the real Reirden showed. Offense was fine, but things seemed to have dropped off the second half of the seasons, especially this year where the Caps went 14-11-3 after January 1st and into the pause. Once they got to the bubble, the Caps didn’t look motivated or ready to play– as shown by their quick ousting.

The question now is who is out there. In land of recycled coaches, there are many to choose from, though some Caps (and NHL) fans would like to see a fresher face behind the NHL benches. Plus, the Capitals don’t like to spend a lot of money for their coaches, which means guys like Peter Laviolette and Gerard Gallant will probably be out because, while experienced, probably carry a higher price tag than most.

Management also has to worry about who will be able to guide this current core into a winning direction, while also holstering the younger core to be the leaders of this team without necessitating an entire strip-down rebuild. Nick Backstrom signed what will be likely his last contract, Alex Ovechkin has one more year left on his deal and it remains to be seen what his future will hold with the NHL, and who knows what TJ Oshie is thinking with the Seattle Kraken coming to existence and him being born in the an hour north of there in Mount Vernon. The new core of Caps will have Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson at the forefront, with Jakub Vrana and Connor McMichael in their shadow.

The blue line is an interesting beast, as John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov are the guys with Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen…well, they’re there, too. The young crop has started with Jonas Siegenthaler shuffling in and out, while the younger guys like Martin Fehervary, Alexander Alexeyev, and Lucas Johansen could be hungry enough to be shuttle guys next year. But there’s work to be done, for sure, with the new crop coming up.

The goaltending seems to have went back to the future with Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek in the mix, though the former seems to have the edge as the starter next year and beyond. Of course, we thought that about Semyon Varlamov and next thing you know Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby are coming for him.

Whoever is the new coach, they’ll need to be able to manage all of that…and at an affordable price. My mind went to Phil Housley, who is the defensive coach and power play coordinator in Arizona. People don’t like him because his wife could be a problem to fans due to her political leanings and fans may also hate his tenure in Buffalo enough to not want him…but he could be a good add for the young defense coming up. There’s always promoting from within with Spencer Carbery, but two seasons in the AHL may not be enough seasoning for him to make the move up.

But if you want an out-of-nowhere pick, maybe the play is Mike Grier out of New Jersey. A former Cap, sure, but a guy who knows the game and has vaulted the ranks from pro scout to assistant coach in a very short time in the NHL. There has been plenty of rave-reviews for Grier behind the bench and what he brings to the game and a fresh view is probably what the Caps want right now in their weird time of transition.

Preparing for a Caps First Round Exit

These playoffs hit differently. Obviously. But as a Caps fan, I didn’t have big expectations for them. There didn’t seem to be too much buzz coming from their camp, this is a team that’s family oriented, and there wasn’t the jump in their game it seemed.

When their round-robin games happened, people were lamenting the reason for a slow start was because the team needed more games in a time-frame so they can get a rhythm. Well, now they’re down 0-3 to a hungry team with plenty to prove to the conference. You can see how the Caps have gotten outworked in in their series and you have to tip your hat to the Islanders– they’re buying into Barry Trotz’s message and it’s paying off. Same way it did with the Caps in 2018.

At the start, I didn’t want to say that the Caps saw these playoffs as an obligation to play, but it does feel a little that way. Five months off for an older team to have however many games with them away from their family is not the most ideal situation in these trying times. Every team and every player has to go through it, but there’s something about the Caps when looking at their games that seems off and seems like they’re going through the motions in this.

This isn’t supposed to be a team where John Carlson gets completely beat on a wide-angle carry-in, leading to an OT goal. This isn’t supposed to be a team where Alex Ovechkin had five games until his first two goals and then really hasn’t been all that noticeable. This isn’t supposed to be a team where the depth of the team has gone completely silent. Tom Wilson had a good game Sunday, but guys like Jakub Vrana hasn’t been great, Michal Kempny got sat, and other have just been there.

You can chalk that up to the Islanders style of play, sure– but usually teams would adjust to that, whether it’s coach’s orders or not.

Which brings us to Todd Reirden showing that the student still is not able to best the master. Ted Starkey had a great note on the Caps coaches saying that head coaches who haven’t been able to advance out of the first round in two seasons didn’t make it to a third. I’m sure Brian McLellan won’t can Reirden just yet, given the circumstances of the playoffs, but we’re on short-leash watch for next season.

Is Reirden a bad head coach?? It sure looks like it. It’s kind of hard to believe the Caps low-balled their Cup winning head coach just because they signed this assistant out of Pittsburgh to a lower deal and thought he was ready for the bench. With Trotz’s troops– Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn– leaving as well, you almost wonder what could have been if they give him closer to what he wanted rather than being about $3.5M apart on a deal.

That all said, I can’t take away credit from the Islanders this series. They’ve played a great team game, they’ve been physical, they’ve worn down the Caps, and they seem to have much more of a jump in their step than the Caps have all series. They’ve done most everything right as much as the Caps have one most everything wrong. While it might not be a sweep and the Captain says they have nothing to lose, you almost feel like this first round ouster is all but official. So it goes.